Editorial | States' rights to pollute

Editorial | States' rights to pollute

A new Trump administration plan to give states control over power-plant emissions doesn't benefit the health of residents of Illinois and other states that are gradually shifting from coal-burning power plants to cleaner energy sources.

Air pollution doesn't stop at state lines.

Utility companies are turning away from coal-burning power plants — according to the Sierra Club, 270 coal plants have been closed since 1970 and 260 remain open — and turning to cheaper, cleaner energy sources such as natural gas, wind and solar power.

Yet the Trump administration wants to turn back the clock and allow states to set their own air pollution regulations.

A handful of states, including Illinois, already are meeting aggressive Obama-era guidelines for lower carbon-dioxide emissions and cleaner air by 2030, according to the Chicago Tribune. Others are headed there.

The eight remaining privately owned coal-burning power plants in Illinois could easily be closed by 2025 without adversely affecting the Midwestern electricity supply, according to a study by Vibrant Clean Energy. Illinoisans would benefit, the study said, with lower electricity prices and cleaner air.

The eight plants, most of which had been owned by the old-line utilities such as Illinois Power, Central Illinois Public Service Co. and Central Illinois Light, are an average of 53 years old and now are owned by Texas-based Vistra Energy Corp.

If states like Illinois can move away from coal-burning power plants and still maintain comparatively low electric rates, other states should be able to do the same.

Yes, it's difficult to watch a once-vibrant U.S. industry like coal mining slowly expire. But with new technologies come new jobs. And the benefits of cleaner air cannot be underestimated. The U.S. EPA estimates that the proposed Affordable Clean Energy plan could lead to "between 470 and 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030." It's outrageous that the federal government would propose a program that would increase premature deaths.

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